Medical practices have a lot of options when it comes to marketing their practice, but how do you know which channel is the best fit? Print, radio and TV have been the traditional media channels of choice for years, but now online advertising may be replacing the 'big three' as the top choice for medical professionals. But does it make sense for your practice or business to begin promoting online?
No matter what your choice, the ultimate goal should be to generate referrals, appointments and revenue. To measure this for your practice’s marketing efforts, you need to have solid tracking systems in place and understand the lifetime value of a new patient or procedure in your specialty. Also understanding the continuing changes being made in regards to online marketing may help resolve your dilemma over where to invest your marketing budget.
How Has Online Marketing Changed?
The days of creating a website and having it act as a static brochure for your practice are no longer acceptable. Your website is one of the most important pieces of marketing content your practice will ever invest in; not having it work to generate revenue for your medical practice is a waste of budget. Potential patients continually rely on the internet to conduct searches when they are experiencing symptoms or looking for therapies/resources to address their medical concerns. Appearing at the top of organic (or natural) search rankings for their specific keyword search queries (known as search engine optimization or SEO) is a popular way of utilizing the internet to generate referrals; but that has gotten even tougher now with Google's algorithm changes over the years.
Online marketing continues to be an ever-changing and extremely fluid environment; probably more than radio, print or TV ever experienced. Recent changes by Google to make search data secure will have a devastating effect on SEO services and call for another shift in the way marketing identifies what keywords or terms are engaging to potential customers. In the past, marketers could use the organic keyword data to make changes to their website that would speak to what patients were actively searching for online. Now that they no longer have access to this data, some marketers may be operating in the dark.
Google Gives Paid Search Advertising a Face-Lift
The limited access marketing professionals now have to organic keyword data means a higher priority will be placed on paid search advertising for identifying performing keywords. I'm sure Google kept this in mind when making changes to their keyword reporting. Whether it was an intentional move by Google or extremely coincidental, performing keywords in paid advertisement campaigns will provide healthcare marketers the only data and insight to help direct content strategies and identify what terms and keywords are engaging to potential patients.
With Google's latest round of updates, paid advertising now offers better tracking for device traffic and the ability to better target prospects geographically. Call extensions allow for better offline tracking and Google's new image extensions will be extremely beneficial for advertising a lot of different specialties in the healthcare space.
Does Online Marketing Work for My Specialty?
Understand the Demand
The first thing you need to do when determining if online marketing is a possible channel for your medical practice is understand the volume of searches being done in your specialty and within your region. Google offers a simple and free keyword research tool to do this and there are other tools on the market as well. Identify a larger group of keywords (at least 100) that are specific to your specialty and the types of patients & procedures you wish to market to and download the data. Our experience is that Google’s tools are good for measuring relative search volume, but usually are off by a significant factor (2-10X depending on specialty) and need to have ‘correction factors’ applied to assess absolute volumes. Where Google’s tools are more accurate is in estimating the cost-per-click needed to access these searches. Once you’ve done the work, hopefully you have a specialty-specific, regional search volume that is somewhere north of 5000 searches per month. If not, you may need to broaden your geography or increase your keyword set. In our experience, most significant specialties in reasonable population basins (e.g., greater than 500K population) will meet this test.
Crunch the Numbers!
The next thing you need to do is determine how much you can spend, what level of referrals that might drive, and whether that will result in a positive return on investment. The key number to identify is the lifetime value of a patient or assign a dollar value to the procedures being marketed. Online marketing typically requires a significant financial investment; whether you’re investigating SEO, PPC or Social Media Marketing. Most online paid advertising programs require a budget of at least $1,000 per month in order to see a good ROI on the campaign. Cost-per-referrals (CPR) vary based on the specialties and the competitive nature of the region, but for arguments sake, we'll say the average for this specialty is $50 per referral (we've seen as low as $20 CPR and as high as $150). That means that $1,000 should net approximately 20 referrals. Through our experience we know that the average conversion rate for referrals to appointments across all specialties is approximately 35%. We also know conversion rate on appointments to procedures is around 40%. Doing the math, those 20 referrals should net 7 appointments, which would net approximately 3 procedures/patients per month. If your lifetime value of a patient or procedural value is less than $500, than online marketing may not be a fit.
Hopefully this will help in identifying whether online marketing, especially paid advertisement campaigns, makes sense for your medical practice. We are an internet driven society and your medical business needs visibility online to help generate referrals, but only if it makes financial sense.